Dementium: The Ward (Video Game)
Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Developed by Renegade Kid
Published by Gamecock Media Group
Platform: Nintendo DS
Originally, I had decided against reviewing this title. I didn't feel I had anything to add to the body of reviews out there already, but Johnny B. convinced me to at least put down a few words for you groovy ghoulies, lest you be wooed by the horror promised by the title.
Dementium: The Ward isn't the first horror game for the DS, but it is a benchmark of sorts. It's a completely original game that is exclusive to the DS. It utilizes several technical features that haven't been seen on the DS before in quite the way they're implemented here. In short, while it isn't the first, it seems to be a major horror milestone for the platform, and it is. Too bad it's miserable to play.
Normally I'd get into the story about now. Not so here, because I couldn't tell you more than that you wind up in a sanitarium because of something involving your wife's murder, and things go all Silent Hill as soon as you come to on a gurney. I'm sure the story is elaborated upon deeper into the game, but I didn't finish it. I gave up after a few hard-fought levels out of sheer frustration and the knowledge that I can't afford a new DS should I spike this one like a football.
What we have is a first-person shooter blended with a survival horror title. You wander the halls of the sanitarium battling various undead and hellish critters with guns and melee weapons, using the normal ammo conservation you would in Resident Evil and flashlight conservation as you would in Silent Hill. If the critters see your light, they come for you. Some critters are almost impossible to kill with the melee weapons, so you need to conserve the ammo for them.
The controls and the engine are swank. I've never seen a 3D engine on the DS run this smoothly, especially for the in-game cutscenes which are admittedly creepy as hell. The gameplay is far too repetitive because of the limitations of the console, I imagine. The halls are repetitive, the creatures recur far too often, and the method of dealing with them is always the same; Three thuds with the pipe, two shots with the pistol, etc.
The sound design is also a major milestone for the DS. Headphones are a must, because positional audio is a major part of gameplay. Hearing where the monsters are coming from is everything when it's dark (and it's always dark) and the use of the 3D audio space is amazing. The DS speakers just can't handle that, and you'll die ten times before you sort out that the audio is the only way to tell when things are jumping you from behind or to the side.
The mood is killer, the use of the flashlight with the stylus is ingenious and the sound design is incredible. So what's the problem?
The entire game is brought to it's knees by one single, catastrophic design decision:
You cannot save your game.
Sure, there's a Save function. Every time you enter a door, the game saves. You can see by the date/time on the save game that you are indeed saving your progress. However, when you die, you go back to the beginning of the level. The game actually DELETES your most recent save and replaces it with the one at the beginning of the current level. You'll see the date/time shift backwards on the save game. And these levels, friends, can be huge. Some take half an hour to plug through even when you know where you're going and where all the key items are.
This wouldn't even be a game breaker except that the monsters respawn every time you re-enter a room. If you have to retread familiar ground, it's still the same march through monster after repetitive monster. Hit a major boss battle, die, and it's 30 more minutes of drudgery just to take another shot ... only to die again within seconds, and it's another 30 minutes.
I did this about five times, said "screw it" and sent the damn thing back to Gamefly. Good thing I didn't purchase it, or I'd have been even more annoyed.
There's no excuse for this design decision. No matter how short the game is, this is not a valid way to counter that. Frustrating your players is an amazingly bad idea. In this case, it is 100% lethal to a game that already faces many limitations and challenges based on the platform and, I'm assuming, the tiny two-man team who developed the entire game.
Do not rent this, do not buy this, don't even look at the case or you may be driven into a 28 Days Later-level of rage. It's a crying shame, but it's a fact: this is a completely broken game that has absolutely no hope of ever being playable.
0 out of 5
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